23 September 2011

common core and frameworks

*this was sent to my science listserve and I've cross-posted here*

I've been doing a lot of thinking this week about the Next Generation Science Standards. I've had many emails from folks across the state full of questions about the revised PASS, the Common Core, and how those are related to what's going on in science (Next Generation Science Standards - NGSS). I also had a chance to work on the framework for the Oklahoma Physics Subject Area test. This test is what you take to be certified to teach Physics here in the Great State of Oklahoma. What a great learning experience! I learned so much that will help as we move towards the HUGE task of developing national science standards. It's overwhelming and exciting all at the same time. More on those standards later.

I've been working to get teachers informed about the status of science education here in Oklahoma and what the expectations are concerning standards. Here's an overview:

 -The Common Core Standards (CC) are only for Mathematics and English/Langauge Arts. The CC does not give any content concerning science. There are some literacy standards for interacting with science and tecnological texts, but those are not content standards. Those are standards for having students read and interact with the type of texts we encounter in the science disciplines. There's a ton of misinformation out there about Common Core, e.g. "the only science I have to teach is in the Common Core." Uh, wrongo! That's kinda like using the excuse of "well, they didn't say I had to pay for a refill, so I assumed I didn't need to." Just because it's called the Common Core doesn't mean it covers all the Core areas. (on a side note, I think the name has contributed to some of the confusion).

 -The PASS (specific to Oklahoma) have been revised and should be used when planning science lessons. It might be helpful to refer to the CC to make those critical connections to mathematics and literacy, but the only document that contains content for science is the PASS. The Pocket PASS for science is at the printer and should be ready to be mailed soon, so consider checking the website to order. We'll be on overload getting those out when they arrive, so please be patient! You can download a current version of the revised PASS for science from the website, as well. If you are reading this and you aren't an Oklahoma teacher, the PASS is an acronym for Priority Academic Student Skills. We used to have this for all content areas, but now ELA and Math are under the Common Core.

 -The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are in the process of development right now. When standards are developed, there must first be a framework to guide the standard writing process. This document has been written and can be found by going to http://www.nextgenscience.org. In 2009, the National Research Council brought together a panel of scientists and science educators. This makeup of this panel was split about in half between scientists and educators. The educator side of the panel had K-12 strongly represented. The panel wrote the framework and it will now guide the standard-writing process. I'll give you more information as I get it.

 I'll not bore you with the details, but the framework basically splits into 3 dimensions: Scientific and Engineering practices, Crosscutting concepts, and the disciplinary core ideas (including Physical, Life, Earth and Space, and Engineering and Technology).

Most of those are probably self-explanatory except the crosscutting concepts. These are the ideas that are not discipline specific and are not skills or practices. They are Patterns, Cause and Effect, Scale Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function, and (finally) Stability and Change. These 7 concepts can be applied to all of the scientific disciplines.

The framework includes a plan for integration between the 3 dimensions, a plan for implementation, a discussion of diversity and equity, and guidance for standards developers. They also included some rationale on what the assumptions were when writing the framework and reasoning behind the organization.

It's been about 15 years since we've had any kind of National Science Standards. The last version was done in 1996 by the National Research Council and included many of the aspects of what I imagine will be included in the Next Generation Science Standards. However, because the Common Core already exists for language arts and mathematics, the new science standards will be designed to articulate (or work with) the Common Core. The NGSS will include standards that fit together with grade-specific standards in mathematics. Once this is done, I expect that standards will all complement each other. I also expect when the Common Core is revised, they will make more explicit connections to the Science Standards.

Okay. I lied. I bored you the details. Here's the abbreviated version: the Framework will drive what is in the standards and the organization of them. It is not a standards document. It is the shell of the house around which the standards will be built.

So where does Oklahoma fit into this process, you ask? Well, we could sit idly by and let other states decide what we should be teaching or we can work toward getting into the Leadership Consortium of states and help write the standards. I'm kinda leaning toward the latter!

Achieve.org (the bi-partisan education reform organization) sent out a press release last week a list of the states that would be leading the standards development and Oklahoma was not listed. I'll take the heat on that one. I was not aware of the process to get us into the leadership consortium. However, the news isn't all bad. I'm now aware and in contact with Achieve to get this fixed. They still want us to be a part of the leadership (my predecessor worked really hard in this area) and we want to be a part.

I'm thrilled at the idea of helping construct this. Talk about something a person could be proud of and take ownership in! We are going to drive what the majority of students in the United States are studying in science! That's exciting!

In case you are wondering (and can't tell) I'm loving the new job. I miss my students, but I get to interact with my SNU students, so the sting isn't quite so bad. I miss my colleagues at PC High, but I love meeting new people here at OSDE as, well. There is so much transition going on, both here locally, and nationally in science education! It's a great feeling knowing (or at least hoping) that you are having an impact on what students are learning in the classroom and I still feel very much a part of that. I'm thankful and blessed beyond belief to be afforded the opportunities I've been given.


07 September 2011

earth's natural disasters

I'm so thankful I have the student contact during Earth's Natural Disasters. That class continues to be meaningful. We talk about Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Volcanoes, Floods, Wildfires, and Tornadoes. It's a bit scary when these kinds of events continue to happen regularly, especially when we are discussing them in class. 3 weeks ago we talked about earthquakes and there was a 5ish magnitude in Northern Virginia. 2 weeks ago our topic was hurricanes and Irene hit the Northeast. Last week we discussed wildfires and you have probably seen that Oklahoma City has been hit along with Texas, Arizona, and California. I think there have even been some in Oregon. It is one of those instances when you wonder if you are noticing the news more because you are teaching the class, or is there really some correlation to the topics discussed in class and the cause!

Either way, I love teaching the class and one of my favorite things students do is to reflect on their learning over the past week. One student did some great reflecting this week and I thought I might share her reflection and my response. Nothing groundbreaking, but I can't help sharing when I see that students are taking what they learn and applying it to everyday life.

Class was very interesting this week. The information about Yellowstone Park stood out the most. I have been talking and thinking about the devastation it would cause if the volcanoes there erupted. I have asked myself if I would try to escape to Canada or if I would stand still and let the first wave of destruction take me out? I haven’t answered that question yet.

The video we watched was useful in gaining a perspective about super volcanoes. I don’t think that I could have fathomed the mass destruction one would cause had it not been presented in that way. I had thought that Mt St Helen’s would be considered a super volcano because of the amount of damage it caused but the reality is that it does not compare.

I feel like I am learning a lot in this class about science which is causing me to observe nature more. My family and I took a 12 mile trip down the Missouri river a few weeks ago and I couldn’t help but examine the rocks and the layers of earth pondering what I have learned in class and attempting to guess the age of each layer. I’m sure that my family would have liked me to just row the raft and enjoy the trip more but I was totally fascinated by different colors and types.

 It is interesting to me how the scientists get their data. How do they know their methods are correct and what do they use to back up their findings? Carbon dating for instances, how do they know that something is as old as they say? Can they be absolutely positive that the rocks that they study are as old as they claim? I’m sure the answer is more complicated then I can understand but I would love the abridged version if there is one.

Here's my response:

What a great question. We need to discuss this in class and I'd be happy if you would raise the question when I give time for that.

Just in case you don't ask in class, the short is answer is this: Scientists don't know whether their methods are correct. At least they don't know any more than you can know whether or not your car will start in the morning. You go out, turn the key and expect it to start based solely on past experience and your faith in the person who built/maintains that vehicle. Science is very similar in that it relies heavily on past experience. We also make inferences in science using logic.

Take your rocks for example. How do you know the rocks on the bottom are older than the ones on the top? You have some knowledge of the Principle of Superposition, even though you've probably never heard it called that. Logic and past experience tell us that the layers that are below were "laid down" BEFORE the ones above. This is called superposition.

So I'll answer your question with another question. How do you KNOW that superposition holds true? Can you be absolutely POSITIVE that you are correct? To tie our classroom activities in to what we are talking about...I suspect there may be some checks left in your envelope. You'll never know the whole story. You just have to keep rolling the die and check that your hypothesis still fits the data. :-)

I hope this helps. I tried really hard to make that the abridged version!

This exchange shows why I love teaching science - We never know the entire story. We never know whether we are 100% correct. We only know what the data tells us (assuming we are listening) and we can only look for patterns once we have some experience. It's like having built-in job security. You can never know everything, because it is constantly changing. It is a dynamic system!

That's why science is better than fiction. In fictional writing, you can make up some wildly fantastic stories. But in science, you don't have to make it up. It is wildly fantastic while being utterly true and accurate!